Subject: Last full day in Istanbul

Date: 07/12/2007 01:27 PM
Hello, All.

Man, have we ever had a busy schedule here in Istanbul.  After we last
emailed you on Tuesday, we headed to the Hippodrome, visited a
park of tombs (known as "The Tombs" in our guidebook) and then swung
around to the Grand Bazaar.  The latter is amazing - there are
"zones" for jewelery craftsmen and gold and silver merchants, fabric
and clothing stores, pottery and leather.  The Bazaar encompasses several
city blocks and is just amazing to stroll in.  Of course,
we made a few purchases.

We were up early yesterday to see Topkapi Palace.  Ken and Dale, you would
have been wowed.  It is *huge* and so ornate.  There are actually four
separate courts in the palace.  The first is a park open to all,
the second was for government officials, the third for high-ranking
officials and diplomats and the fourth for the royal family.  Topkapi
contains numerous exhibits: the antique Oriental porcelain dishes used by
the sultans, the armour worn by the soldiers, the kitchens that prepared
the feasts, and of course, the harem quarters.  That was a maze of one
gorgeous room after another, each reserved for one of the eunachs, harem
girls, sultans or the sultan's mother.  Finally, we saw the treasury
with the famous Topkapi dagger (the emeralds are larger around than a
quarter) and the Spoonmaker's Diamond (the size of an egg)
amongst an amazing number of other precious pieces encrusted
with jewels.  There was even a small chest just filled with
emeralds!

Topkapi took us about four hours total to do and it was *hot*.  We
chose to break our day at a posh restaurant and had a delicious Turkish
lunch of lentil soup, pepper-aubergine-onion-yogurt salad, cheese pies and
an aubergine-tomato-meatball kebab.  From there, we hit the Istanbul
Archaeological Museum.  They had impressive exhibits on
pre-Islamic cultures in the Middle East (many things circa 2700
BC) and tile and ceramic works.  We actually saw a religious artifact from
6000 BC!

We then strolled back to the Blue Mosque, where we had to wait
outside for a few minutes for prayer to finish.  No hardship there -
the gardens and exterior are gorgeous.  The only things more
impressive is the interior.  The mosque is a massive multi-domed
building with tiled walls, painted ceilings, carpeted floors and amazing
stone scrollwork everywhere.  Photos don't do it justice - it's a
beautiful but calming place that is perfect for worship.

Sarah then indulged in the full works at a hamam (Turkish bath).  It was a
truly luxurious experience that began in a marble steam room and
ended with a half-hour massage.  She'll give you full details later
if you're interested.

The only thing that didn't go well our first few days was our quest for
good food.  Our hotel is in a residential section in a mostly tourist
zone.  It's five minutes away from the Blue Mosque, but it's also easier
to find a hamburger than a kebap.  All of the cafes are outrageously
expensive and the food is mostly Western.  After being spoiled with
great food in Bodrum and Selcuk, we were discouraged.  However, we have
now managed to find a great pastry/savoury pie place for snacks, a good
restaurant and some lokantas which sell soups and stews with lots of fab
veggies.

Today, we decided to go at a slower pace which, combined with
cooler weather, made for an especially good day.  We started with the Aya
Sofya, built in 537 AD by the Emperor Justinian.  The space is
beautiful without being ostentatious, despite the huge mosaics with
gold backgrounds.  The art in the domes of these buildings is
awe-inspiring.  We don't know how these artists could create that
scrollwork as they did.

After lunch, we scrambled around town looking for supplies for
our camera.  We've taken so many photos (400 already!) that we needed
batteries and a cable to transfer the pics from the camera.  We took in
the Spice Bazaar (yummy Turkish Delight), two other gorgeous mosques and a
bit more of the Grand Bazaar.  Now we're emailing and dealing with our
hundreds of photos! (Ry, we're sorry about the extra disk space on
Stihl.)

This will be our last message for two days.  Tomorrow, we're
going to hit the Museum of Turkish Arts before cruising the
Bosphorus.  Our overnight train (1st class cabin) leaves Sircik station
tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m.    We'll be crossing the border back into
Greece around midnight our time and we'll be in Thessaloniki around 8 in
the morning on the 14th.  We'll mail you then!

Oh, and thanks to everyone for emailing us.  We've loved all of your
messages and updates.

Later,

Sarah and Ben